May told to soften Brexit ap­proach

Urged to seek wider con­sen­sus

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

UK PRIME Min­is­ter Theresa May sought to strike a deal with a North­ern Ir­ish Protes­tant party to save her pre­mier­ship yes­ter­day as she came un­der in­tense pres­sure to soften her ap­proach to Brexit days be­fore for­mal EU di­vorce talks.

May’s botched elec­tion gam­ble, which saw her lose her par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, left her so weak­ened that sup­port­ers of closer ties with the EU pub­licly de­manded she take a more con­sen­sual and busi­ness-friendly ap­proach to Brexit.

In an at­tempt to avoid a sec­ond elec­tion that could deepen the worst po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Bri­tain since last June’s shock vote to leave the EU, May apol­o­gised to her Con­ser­va­tive Party MPs, who said they would leave her in power – for now.

“She said: ‘I’m the per­son who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is go­ing to get us out of it’,” said one Con­ser­va­tive MP who at­tended Mon­day’s meet­ing.

“She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”

To stay in govern­ment, May must strike a deal with the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP), a small eu­roscep­tic North­ern Ir­ish party with 10 par­lia­men­tary seats.

DUP leader Ar­lene Foster ar­rived for talks with May. She waved but did not say any­thing as she went into Down­ing Street. She looked at her watch and ig­nored a ques­tion from a re­porter who asked: “What is your price?”

“The deal will be done,” said Jon Tonge, pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at Liver­pool Univer­sity. “Ba­si­cally, it will be Theresa May sign­ing cheques for the fore­see­able fu­ture or a monthly di­rect debit, as it were, into North­ern Ire­land’s cof­fers.

“The DUP may never have the po­lit­i­cal arith­metic so favourable again so like the Con­ser­va­tives, the DUP will want to avoid another elec­tion and will want to keep drink­ing in the po­lit­i­cal free bar that is avail­able to it,” Tonge said.

But a deal with the DUP would risk desta­bil­is­ing the po­lit­i­cal bal- ance in North­ern Ire­land by in­creas­ing the in­flu­ence of pro-Bri­tish union­ists who have strug­gled for years with Ir­ish Catholic na­tion­al­ists who want North­ern Ire­land to join a united Ire­land.

While the DUP are deeply eu­roscep­tic, they have ob­jected to some of the prac­ti­cal im­pli­ca­tions of a so-call hard Brexit – in­clud­ing a po­ten­tial loss of a “fric­tion­less bor­der” with the Repub­lic of Ire­land – and talks will touch on ef­forts to min­imise the po­ten­tial dam­age to North­ern Ire­land.

With for­mal EU di­vorce talks due next week, May was to head to France to meet Em­manuel Macron, who last month swept to vic­tory in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, May cast her­self as the only leader com­pe­tent enough to nav­i­gate the tor­tu­ous Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions that will shape the fu­ture of the UK and its $2.5 tril­lion (R32 tril­lion) econ­omy.

Jeremy Cor­byn, leader of the op­po­si­tion Labour Party, which saw its num­ber of par­lia­men­tary seats and share of the vote in­crease, said there could be another elec­tion this year or early in 2018 af­ter Thurs­day’s vote pro­duced no clear win­ner.

May, who ahead of last June’s ref­er­en­dum sup­ported re­main­ing in the EU, has promised to start the for­mal Brexit talks next week.

But op­po­nents of a sharp break with the EU took her woes as a chance to push back against her strat­egy.

Be­fore the elec­tion, May pro­posed a clean break from the EU, in­volv­ing with­drawal from Europe’s sin­gle mar­ket, lim­its on im­mi­gra­tion and a be­spoke cus­toms deal with the EU.

Brexit Min­is­ter David Davis has in­sisted the ap­proach to the EU di­vorce had not changed, but at the meet­ing with MPs on Mon­day, May recog­nised that a broader con­sen­sus needed to be built for Brexit and made clear she would lis­ten to all wings of the party on the is­sue.

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Ruth David­son said the govern­ment should put eco­nomic growth at the heart of its Brexit strat­egy, while some se­nior min­is­ters have pushed for less fo­cus on im­mi­gra­tion and more on jobs.

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